micah holmquist's irregular thoughts and links
Welcome to the musings and notes of a Cadillac, Michigan based writer named Micah Holmquist, who is bothered by his own sarcasm.
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Sites Holmquist trys, and often fails, to go no more than a couple of days without visiting (some of which Holmquist regularly swipes links from without attribution)
Blogs that for one reason or another Holmquist would like to read on at least something of a regular basis (always in development)
Sunday, November 30, 2003
Yankees in the coalition of the willing's court
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (Jeff Margolis, 1979) is perhaps the finest example of film documenting an event that was not designed for cinematic purposes, specifically a comedy concert by Richard Pryor in Long Beach, California. The lighting wasn't great, the picture quality wasn't the best (and having only seen it on dvd and vhs, I suspect it has only declined marginally since the theatrical release) and the cinematography wasn't innovative. But with only or two glaring counterexamples, the film worked because it focused primarily on Pryor from static and nearly-static positions, which allowed film viewers to see the stand-up act in a manner that was decent, although hardly perfect, substitute for the experience of seeing the performance live. (That it was shown in theaters where people could laugh in unison no doubt only heightened this quality.) Pryor's humor, pathos and social commentary come out in the frantic performance.
Richard Pryor: Live in Concert documented a performance by one individual and so it was possible to record the full scope of what was happening on stage. Editing and camera location may be important to the picture but their strength comes from not being noticed. The same really isn't possible with a musical concert featuring numerous musicians. Unless an unsatisfactory static faraway shot is used, viewers of the recorded product must depend on camera shots and editing to get a view of what is going on. An impressive job in those areas means the very opposite of not being noticed. Astute viewers should realize that they are seeing the concert through the eyes of film makers since that is the only way to capture the individual nuances.
An excellent example of this is the recently released two-dvd set Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band: Live in Barcelona. Director Chris Hilson and editor Thom Zimny document a complete concert from last year with mix a fade ins and fade outs, multiple camera angles and zoom shots in a manner that's nowhere near the level of Godard but which is quite impressive compared to most of the usually dull musical concert constructions, including Hilson and Zimny's previous work Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band: Live in New York City (2001). Unfortunately the release's bonus features are pointless short documentaries. A look at the process of filming the concert would have been a welcome addition.
Of course nobody besides film makers and hardcore students of film would care much about the representation of the performance in such endeavors if the performance wasn't stellar. As should be expected given Bruce Springsteen's reputation as a live performer, the set doesn't disappoint in that area. Recorded last year on October 16 in Spain, Violinist Soozie Tyrell augments the by now standard E Street Band lineup of keyboardist Roy Bittain, saxophonist Clarence Clemmons, organist Danny Federici, guitarist Nils Lofgren, guitarist Patty Scialfa, bassist Garry W. Tallent, guitarist Steve Van Zandt and drummer Max Weinberg. Ten of the 24 songs they perform are off of last year's The Rising (Columbia Records), which keeps the group from sounding like a nostalgia act even if the tried and true distorted segue is used with no shame. The material not from The Rising comes from 1980's The River (Columbia) and earlier albums with three notable exceptions. "Born in the U.S.A" has been restored to a rock anthem, a style I find far more compelling than the folk version even if I do see how this bigger sound could mask the message. "Dancing in the Dark" has been updated in a spunky fashion that may make this the best version of the song ever. (Previously I'd say that nod went to Mary Chapin Carpenter's cover of it which appeared as a b-side to her 1999 single "Almost Home" (Columbia).) "Land of Hope and Dreams," in contrast, could use a rest.
The crowd plays a noticeable role in this recording, humming and singing along they are the 11th band member. None of it is as awe-inspiring as the sound of the crowd during "Badlands" on Live in New York City but the effect is heard on just about every song here. Springsteen plays into this with apparent ease, giving just enough space to the audience.
Live in New York City featured Springsteen proselytizing for rock and roll. On the new discs he comes across as calmer, though no less persuasive. Audience members bought a ticket. They know the music can be an experience. So Springsteen goes out and shows them and, in the process, makes it clear to all to entertaining a crowd can be amongst the highest artistic practices.
"Lonesome Day" is second song on the dvd. First appearing on The Rising, one voice "Lonesome Day" is a person struggling to come to terms with the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. "A little revenge and this too shall pass," he says.
How quaint that idea sounds in light of the theoretically never-ending "war on terror" that Team Bush is pursuing. In a November 19 speech in London, U.S. President George W. Bush said one "pillar of security is our commitment to the global expansion of democracy, and the hope and progress it brings, as the alternative to instability and to hatred and terror. We cannot rely exclusively on military power to assure our long-term security. Lasting peace is gained as justice and democracy advance."
Is this because non-democracies inherently create violent dislike of the United States, as Bush asserts, or is it because "democracy" doesn't literally mean a democracy but rather a country with a government that is in line with the wishes of Uncle Sam and anything else is unaceptable? With apologies to Slavoj Zizek, is even posing this question is to ask the unaskable?